If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know that you gain 10 pounds from all of the delicious food you eat. That was not the case for sailors during the Age of Exploration. Instead their food was the source of all sorts of horrible food stories. It also serves the source for a great couple of homeschool history lessons. Yesterday I shared how to make hard tack, today you’re going to learn the rest of what did sailors eat.
Why is food important for a sailor?
In a couple of weeks when we get into all of the individual explorers, you’ll see a reoccurring theme of sailors dying or falling sick because of malnutrition. It took a lot of time for the sailors to figure out they needed specific foods, and how to store them.
Yes citrus, limes, oranges, all of that. This is why British sailor were called limies, because they would be given limes to suck on to prevent scurvy. This is also part of why they had bad teeth, because the citric acid would erode their teeth, but that’s another matter.
We just reread the story of Magellan last week, and he lost over half of his crew due to scurvy. Prior to the Age of Exploration trips were short, so they were able to count on getting more food part of the way through their journey, but that was no longer possible.
How did they keep their food so long?
Enter dehydration, and preservation by smoking. Prior to refrigeration, those were the only two options for keeping your food good. Because I happen to own a dehydrator, and was looking for an excuse to show the kids how it worked we dried some fruits, and some meat.
Making the beef jerky
Now, in this day and age they didn’t have a dehydrator, instead their meats would hang in a smokehouse with a small fire going for an extended time. It made for some tasty food. We can simulate a lot of this….. Soooooo….. I have no pictures of any of our dehydration, just of food afterwards, magically dehydrated.
Ingredients: rump roast sliced thin (often your grocery store will slice it for you), a giant bottle of soy sauce, liquid smoke, 1 cup brown sugar
Mix all that together and put it in a gallon size ziploc bag. I like ziploc bags for marinating because it’s easier to mix things up, and everything is always covered by sauce, and it decreases clean up. Leave it alone for a day or so, maybe taking a minute every now and then to shake it up and squish it around.
The next day put your marinated meat in single layers on the dehydrator. If you don’t have a dehydrator you can put your oven on the lowest temperature it goes, and leave it in there, checking every now and then.
The meat should dehydrate in about 12 hours or so to make a nice beef jerky.
Fruit takes up a lot of space, but the sailors needed it to prevent scurvy, so fruit would be dehydrated to both preserve and allow them to store more food. Because I wasn’t sure how the kids would react to dried fruits, I opted to dry apples.
- Core your apple. I have a super easy to use apple corer, that I love.
- Slice your apple straight across. The thinner the slices, the better it will dry.
- Put your apples in the dehydrator for a few hours. Check to see if they are dried (if using the oven, set it for the lowest you can, maybe 200).
- If you want more flavor (but less realistic to time period) add sugar or cinnamon to your apples. But spices were expensive, so you aren’t going to waste spices on sailors if you don’t have to.
Putting together our sailor’s meal
While we could have dehydrated several more items, I opted for the sake of my sanity, and keeping the kids’ interests to pick up the rest of the dehydrated food from the store. I picked up some dehydrated vegetables, banana chips, pineapple, strawberries. Basically whatever I could find in our bulk bins at our local HEB.
Then I sliced up some cheese, because hard cheeses are a traveler’s staple, and what’s a meal without cheese? I grabbed a few slices of hard tack, and a random selection of the foods I’d bought.
And the kids tried it. It was not a hit. They were unconvinced of the awesomeness of the hard tack. They were not fans of the dehydrated fruits or vegetables. They would grudgingly eat them, but didn’t like it.
However the beef jerky was a big hit, and the kids want to make that again sometime.
Oh well, not all activities can be a big hit. I was certainly amused to try it out.